Pregnancy and work: How the f*ck do you do both?

Juggling work and pregnancy? Mama, we have been there! This overwhelming mix of bosses and bumps, morning sickness and morning meetings, time sheets and time spent in doctors’ waiting rooms is a cruel plight on womankind. 

It’s not easy growing a human and meeting your KPIs at the same time, but we’ve got some handy pregnancy tips to help you get through. (And BTW those KPIs can wait, but your baby can’t!)

On the agenda for today: 

  • Navigating that awkward early pregnancy stage at work (before people know about it).
  • Answering the question, “How long can I work while pregnant?”
  • Knowing your rights when it comes to pregnancy and work in Australia.

And finally, some sh*t-hot work and pregnancy tips from actual mums ranging from casual hospo workers, to corporates working full time while pregnant. We got you, girl.

First things first: Navigating early pregnancy and work

So, how do you keep up appearances at work when all you’re capable of doing is sleeping, eating, and throwing up said food? It can be hella awkward needing to take it easy in your first trimester while keeping your pregnancy hush-hush. 

A few things to keep in mind about the early days of pregnancy and work:

  • You DO need to go to your pregnancy appointments – It’s gotta be the priority when juggling work and pregnancy. It just does! Expect to go to around 10–12 visits throughout your pregnancy (plus any additional ultrasounds, blood tests, and genetic tests).

  • You DON’T need to tell work that you’re pregnant until you’re ready – It’s totally up to you when you do this! Just give your employer a heads-up at least 10 weeks in advance if you plan to qualify for parental leave (paid or unpaid). The exception to this is if they should know about it for health and safety reasons.

  • You ARE entitled to take your sick leave – If you have some accrued, you can take a few days to deal with morning sickness, fatigue or just for those days you can’t quite stomach the commute in. Totes allowed by law.

  • You AREN’T going to feel this horrendous the whole pregnancyEarly pregnancy symptoms can be AWFUL. But they’re a sign that your body is doing the right things. A lot of women find that symptoms ease in the second trimester, but if your work stress and pregnancy sickness is only skyrocketing in tandem, chat to your doctor about potential remedies and solutions.

Some mums find that it’s simply easier to let a trusted supervisor or HR representative in on the situation. It may save you from the expectation of working long hours while pregnant or at least a whole bunch of excuse-making. But others find it easier to stay vague about this mysterious ‘sickness’ they’ve got. It’s up to what you feel comfortable with.

When is the best time to stop working while pregnant?

You can never really know how your pregnancy might affect your ability to work. Some women are able to work right through until they go into labour (these women are insane but also impressive), while others feel physically unable to keep working into the third trimester. Or even earlier on. (We see you, narcoleptic mums who can’t take meds during pregnancy!)

There’s no right or wrong, and it’s honestly not a competition to see who can work the longest. (Which is great, ‘cause personally I’d lose.)

How long should you work while pregnant? It’s so individual. Most women tend to go on maternity leave around 34–36 weeks, but your body and mind may signal to you that you need to finish up earlier than this. (Not to mention – baby comes when baby is ready!)

Some clear signs you should stop working while pregnant

  • You don’t feel good – You’re exhausted, unwell, or just sense that you shouldn’t keep going. A pregnant woman’s intuition is magical. Listen to it.

  • You’re cranky and useless – Your work performance is dropping, or you’re being a grouchy a*shole to your colleagues. Don’t let it go on!

  • You’ve been told to stop – Your doctor advises against continuing work, or is telling you to slow down and take care of yourself. Trust us – they know wassup.

  • You’re high-risk – You’re up against a health condition or have a history of birth complications. (Case in point, Amanda told us this: “I definitely think my Type 1 Diabetes was a factor for finishing work at 30 weeks. I was followed by my endo(crinologist) and OB very closely and frequently too, which required a LOT of appointments.”)

Pregnancy and work laws you need to know about

Some women can smash out work like a dream during pregnancy. Others find it really challenging to keep on top of things as normal. Whatever the case, there are some important laws in place in Australia (and most countries) that protect you from unfair treatment at work while you’re pregnant. Some things to note –

Discrimination is against the law

You can’t be fired, demoted, or treated differently to your coworkers just because you’re pregnant. Even if your employer thinks they’re “helping you out” by giving you easier work or reducing your hours. 

The only exception to this law is if the safety of you or others is at stake. (This is fair.)

You have a right to safe work

If your normal job requires heavy lifting, exposure to harmful substances or extreme temperatures, or loud noises or vibrations (like machinery), it may not be safe to do while you’re pregnant.

Your employer needs to help you find a suitable alternative role in the company for the same pay, or you can choose to take unpaid leave until after your pregnancy and maternity leave is up. Another nifty way that pregnancy and work laws try to help mamas-to-be – and we’re thankful for it!

You’re entitled to sick leave and ‘special maternity leave’

The Fair Work Ombudsman states that “pregnancy is not an illness or injury”, so you can’t take leave from work purely because you’re pregnant (shame). But sometimes you do obtain an illness or injury because of pregnancy. 

You’re within your rights to take your normal sick leave while you’re pregnant – yay! Beyond this, you can request unpaid ‘special maternity leave’, which can last as long as your pregnancy or pregnancy-related illness. Heads up: your employer can request a medical certificate for this.

You can take compassionate leave in the case of pregnancy loss

Sometimes pregnancies don’t last till full-term. Dealing with the loss of a pregnancy, AND work, is a conversation all of its own. But know that at a minimum you (and your partner) are entitled to two days’ compassionate leave in the case of a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Mums weigh in: Top tips for juggling work and pregnancy

Some common themes came up when we asked mums for their tips on managing pregnancy and work. Here’s what they think you need to know.

1. Take naps (whatever it takes!)

If you’re experiencing pregnancy fatigue and work makes it hard to nap, get creative.

“Keep a yoga mat under your desk and book meeting rooms for a sneaky nap.” – Ally

2. Talk to your employer if things need to change

Sometimes your job just doesn’t accommodate what your pregnant body needs. Talk to your boss if this is the case, and discuss what you can change. Here are two examples of how clever mums did this –

Move roles

I worked in bushland vegetation initially. It was way too hard pregnant so I swapped to a customer service role. I also adjusted my hours to work shorter days.” – Georgi

Move your hours

“I found my housekeeping work hard with all the bending, squatting and lifting. Before I fell pregnant I was doing full room cleans but I volunteered to go to evenings where they do turn down service. It’s still physical but less so than during the day.” – Lisa

3. Don’t be afraid of working on your feet while pregnant

Jobs that involve working on your feet while pregnant (i.e. nursing, hospitality) can actually suit some women. 

“I worked as a Medical Scientist. I was on my feet almost all day and loved the exercise.” – Shannen

By contrast, some mums find sitting down all day (i.e. office-based jobs, yuck) to be more of a challenge – particularly when working full time while pregnant.

“Don’t sit for too long. Lots of water leads to lots of toilet breaks!” – Anna

4. Take advantage of being ‘in the zone’

If your work is flexible, you might benefit from switching up your daily routine and completing work when you feel your best. (9-5 is so old-school these days anyway!)

“If you have the freedom to, smash work out when energy is good.” – Madison

5. Listen to what your body needs

Whether you can adjust your work setup, do exercises to help you feel good, or relax in ways that ease your aches after a big day of work stress and pregnancy – you do you.

“Accommodations at work helped me – chairs and feet up whenever possible.” – Shannen

“I had about 15 baths a week. (My back hated being pregnant so daily baths were a lifesaver.)” – Georgi

6. Ask for help (and take it)

Yes! This has to be one of the most important pregnancy tips for working women. If ever there’s a time to make demands or, you know, ask for help nicely – it’s while you’re pregnant.

“Ask for help (AKA ‘take care of my savage toddler’).” – Helen

“My work supported me by partnering me with someone else to help ensure I wasn’t overdoing it.” – Lisa

“Asking for help is so important. I ended up employing a woman who wanted extra work, who helped with cleaning twice a week. That was a massive help. And if my morning sickness was bad, I’d pay her extra for meals which was a huge blessing.” – Beck

(Psst… meal delivery services are ‘help’ too!)

7. Stay nourished and hydrated

This is so important when your body is growing a baby, and will help you tackle pregnancy and work much better! (BTW, check out our guide on good foods to eat while pregnant.)

“Staying well nourished and hydrated makes 100000% difference” – Maddison

8. Plan ahead for mat leave and beyond

Consider working while pregnant good practice for working with a baby (aka when you’re sleep-deprived and your milk ducts swell up every 3 hours). Set expectations with your partner on how you’ll cope as a family unit now.

“Share the load with your partner and establish boundaries before returning to work. Mums tend to do everything at home and work – this is why we need boundaries and a plan.” – Anna

Time to start planning that mat leave mama! Read our guides to paid maternity leave here and unpaid maternity leave here.

Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission, Pregnancy and work: Know your rights and obligations

Supporting Working Parents, Working while pregnant (or potentially pregnant)

Australian Government Fair Work Ombudsman, Pregnant employee entitlements

The Raising Children Network, Pregnancy and work: women’s rights and entitlements

The Raising Children Network, Stress and pregnancy

Mayo Clinic, Working during pregnancy: Do’s and don’ts

The Royal Women’s Hospital, Work & career

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